Pediatric Massage: Making It Understandable and Comfortable for Hospitalized Children

August 7, 2023

The hospital can be a frightening place for children, particularly those who have experienced multiple medical procedures and interventions. Amidst this distress, pediatric massage can provide a gentle, non-invasive therapeutic approach to mitigate pain and anxiety.

Explaining pediatric massage to a hospitalized child who has been traumatized by previous healthcare experiences is not an easy task. It requires sensitivity, patience, and creativity. At Liddle Kidz® we always aim to simplify the process for caregivers, medical staff, and parents to help children understand what pediatric massage entails.

Why Pediatric Massage?

Before understanding how to explain pediatric massage, knowing what it is and why it’s beneficial is crucial. A pediatric massage is a form of touch therapy tailored to children’s specific needs and uses gentle pressure to stimulate growth, ease discomfort, reduce anxiety, and promote relaxation. It has been found to aid the child’s overall physical and emotional well-being, especially in a stressful environment like a hospital.

Step One:
Understand the Child’s Perspective

Begin by acknowledging that the child may associate all touch in the hospital with invasive procedures, hence their apprehension towards massage. Recognize their fear and use empathetic communication to show them their feelings are valid. Please encourage them to express their thoughts, fears, and emotions. Understanding their perspective is the first step to breaking down barriers of fear and confusion.

Step Two:
Introduction to Massage

When introducing the concept of pediatric massage, use simple, non-threatening language. Explain that a massage is a specific type of touch that may make the body feel better and should not cause pain. Instead of words like ‘therapy’ or ‘treatment,’ which may seem clinical and intimidating, use ‘gentle touch,’ ‘comforting hand hugs,’ or ‘soft press’ to describe the process and techniques. You can assure children that they are in charge of the entire session, and that they are allowed to choose their position, pressure, and pacing.

Step Three:
Distinguish from Medical Procedures

It is essential to distinguish massage from other medical procedures. Explain that, unlike a doctor’s examination or a nurse giving an injection, a massage doesn’t hurt and is meant to provide comfort and relaxation. Let them know that the person giving the massage, the certified pediatric massage therapist (CPMT®), is there to help them relax and feel better, not to do any tests or give any medicine.

Step Four:
Demonstration and Consent

A demonstration can be very helpful. Use a stuffed animal or doll to show what the massage will involve. You might say, “Just like I’m giving Teddy a gentle touch on the arm, the therapist will do the same for you.”

Crucially, assure the child that they are in control. Explain that they can stop the massage anytime if they feel uncomfortable or don’t want to continue. Obtaining their consent and reassuring their control over the situation helps to reduce anxiety.

Step Five:
Relate to Pleasant Experiences

Relate the massage to pleasant experiences they are already familiar with. If they’ve ever had a back rub from their parents to go to sleep or had their hair gently brushed, draw parallels with those experiences. This will help create a positive association with the massage in their mind. You might even use the example of how they provide gentle touch for their cat, dog, or hamster. Some children relate to the idea of how they care for their loving pets similarly.

Step Six:
Keep it Playful

Use a fun, playful approach. Introduce the massage as a particular activity that the child will likely enjoy. A little storytelling could work wonders. For example, you might describe massage techniques as drawing pictures that go along with a very creative and imaginative story you are telling.

Step Seven:
Discuss the Benefits

Talk about the benefits of massage in a child-friendly way. Rather than focusing on clinical outcomes, relate the benefits to a specific situation they may be experiencing. For example, you may have been referred to this child due to their persistent headaches. You can share with the child how massage may help them feel relaxed, lessen their pain or even help them to fall asleep and rest more soundly.

Each child is unique, so what works for one may not work for another. It’s essential to be flexible, adapting the explanation to the child’s needs and responses. Remember, the aim is to make them feel safe and secure, transforming the massage from a daunting prospect into a comforting experience.

Pediatric massage can be a powerful tool in improving a child’s hospital experience. By explaining the therapy appropriately, we can help the child feel more comfortable and less afraid, opening the door to the amazing therapeutic benefits of pediatric massage.